Tag Archives: Bluffton

Six inches of melting snow + warmer weather + 3 inches of rain = December flood

Well. Let’s just say it’s been a pretty weird week, given that we’re just a few days from Christmas.

The deluge began on Friday, the day before the first day of winter. Except for a few moments, it continued into early Sunday, the day after the first day of winter. One week earlier, we’d been digging of first one snowfall, and then another. So not only did we have the onslaught of 3 inches of rain but we had 6+ inches of melting snow.

And what happens with so much water? Flooding. Odd that we should have a flood on the first day of winter, but this is Ohio, land-of-the-weird-weather.

10500-saturday-night-rain-continues-and-riley-risesBy Saturday evening, we could see the lights of Bluffton University’s library reflecting on the green space directly across the creek from our house. That’s usually the first hint that the creek has spilled over its northern bank. Fortunately, we live on the high side of the creek.

My husband went out late Saturday, intending to photograph and videotape images for our website, The Bluffton Icon (www.blufftonicon.com). By the time he returned, the local police department had begun encouraging those in low-lying areas to move to higher ground. Memories of the August 2007 flood were still lingering.

By morning, streets were closed due to high water, and the high school football field was waist-high in water. But even by then, the water had begun to recede. By all accounts, we were pretty lucky, although those with soggy basements might not share that feeling.

1222-9.m.sundayAnd now? Just 24 hours after the water had begun to recede, the temps have dropped from 48 degrees to 30, and a few flurries have reminded us that we’ll likely see snow before we see that much rain again.

But it’s nearly Christmas, and thanks to the winter solstice, the days are getting longer. It’s the beginning of the end….of winter’s darkness, at least.

*For a video of the flooding, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPZ49fOaDag

(Photos and video courtesy of the Bluffton Icon.)


A gaggle of geese

When our kids were little, we got into the practice of assigning age groups to young ducks and geese, based on their size. The tiny, fluffy ones were “newborns,” and from there graduated to grade school, junior high and adult. Somehow the distinction of high school never entered the picture.

So this morning as I ran around the west end of the Buckeye quarry, I came upon a gaggle of geese. They were happily searching for food on the ground and didn’t seem too bothered by my presence so I was able to photograph them. But then a dog barked and everyone hustled down the banks to the water.

I wanted to join them — the humidity and heat were beginning to rise and the water looked pretty inviting.

Here’s a photo and a video:





Chattanooga Choo Choo

Nearly 34 years later, I can clearly remember my first date with the man I eventually married. Not because it was particularly romantic and not because of the exception food. No, what I remember clearly is approaching a railroad crossing as the gates lowered and lights began flashing. Here’s how I remember that conversation:

Me: Oh no, a train. I hope it’s not a long one.
Fred: Yes! A train! I hope it’s a long one.

I remember looking at him and wondering what I’d gotten myself into. This man actually got his jollies out of counting train cars. Oh, and identifying each car’s company/owner, and then specifying the type of car each was.

I’m pretty sure there were at least 100 cars. Probably more. Didn’t faze him in the least.

Some might say that’s probably where I went wrong. I could have nipped that romance in the bud that very night. But no. I fell…hook, line and cowcatcher. What I didn’t realize was that it was contagious. It was like a plague. Once you’re hooked, you’re a railfan for life. I’d never claim to know even 1/100th of what he knows about trains, the history of trains, and the proposed future of trains. But my heart does a little skip when it hears the wail of a train in the night.

Here’s the thing. I’ll bet that when a train sounds in the distance at, say, 9 p.m., no one in your house stops, cocks his head and says, “That’s the 410 going through….” Well, at least unless you’re my friend, Eric Davis, who lives just 15 miles away in another small northwestern Ohio town.

My husband took this photo with a Pony Kodak in 1970 in Montana.

My husband took this photo with a Pony Kodak in 1970 in Montana.

I once asked my husband what nickname is given to train nuts (my word). His response was “railroad employees call us ‘FRF’ and ‘$&*@+%’ Railroad Fans.'”

There is a somewhat elaborate set-up in our basement featuring HO gauge train cars, but that’s only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. There are train lanterns, train schedules, items he’s collected over the years. For years now, I’ve successfully ignored much of this, but finally I got curious. How did he get interested? Who could I blame?

He claims that  “this hobby is in the

Santa Fe diesel

Santa Fe diesel

tradition of James F. West, Bluffton’s premier interurban fan; John H. Keller, Sr., Interurban and NKP steam and Lima Locomotive Works expert, Dr. B.W. Travis, O gauge model hobbyist, and my great uncle Harry Hahn, freight conductor, who was killed when a Big Four freight train backed into him in 1918 in Bucyrus.”

If you want to see just a minute amount of his collection, stop by the Bluffton (Ohio) Public Library, where some of his items are currently on display. Can’t get to the library? Not to worry…he was only too eager to offer some favorite photos.

This is now the Norfolk Southern through Bluffton. The green and white sheet of paper is from a NKP freight bill he obtained.

This is now the Norfolk Southern through Bluffton. The green and white sheet of paper is from a NKP freight bill he obtained.

Great Northern Empire Building Vista Dome.  Chicago to Seattle.

Great Northern Empire Building Vista Dome. Chicago to Seattle.

Akron, Canton and Youngstown hopper. This line is abandoned but used to go north of the old Bluffton swimming pool. In the summers, the engineer would blow the whistle and all the kids would wave.

Akron, Canton and Youngstown hopper. This line is abandoned but used to go north of the old Bluffton swimming pool. In the summers, the engineer would blow the whistle and all the kids would wave.

Fred, Lindsay and I rode this through Bluffton from Findlay to Lima. Someone else took the photo for us. This is a Norfolk and Western J Passenger locomotive. This is the last-ever steam to travel through Bluffton, circa 1987.

Fred, Lindsay and I rode this through Bluffton from Findlay to Lima. Someone else took the photo for us. This is a Norfolk and Western J Passenger locomotive. This is the last-ever steam to travel through Bluffton, circa 1987.

Fall festival spices up a small town Saturday

Saturdays in a small town can be pretty routine — an early morning run, farmer’s market, house maintenance, grocery shopping, dinner out. But once in awhile a weekend is so full of activities, you barely stop moving.

Last Saturday, Bluffton’s annual fall festival offered activities that appealed not only to locals of all ages, but plenty of out-of-towners. Kids’ activities downtown, a quilt show, antique tractor show, car raffle, movie premier, silent auction, public library anniversary celebration, health fair, corn maze and hayrides at Suter’s.

We made the rounds, but my favorite stop is the Swiss Homestead, partly because my great-great-grandfather was one of 163 grandchildren of Peter and Elizabeth Schumacher, who lived on the farm with their 16 children. But mostly, I just love being out in the country.

To give you an idea of what we saw during our various stops, here are some photos:

This tractor reminds me of my Grandpa Suter’s tractor. I remember it being gray, but since that was a LONG time ago, I’m probably wrong.

Two of my cousins playing with the baby ducks.

Feeding adorable baby goats

Herb garden

Jonah Agner baking bread

Slicing ham off the spit

Who wouldn’t love playing in a giant “corn box”?

Giant corncob at Suter’s Corn Maze

Visuals from a snowy run

Last night Mother Nature dropped 5 inches on snow on us, so this morning we woke to the sounds of snowplows making their way around the neighborhood. Fighting off the urge to hibernate, I got up to face a snowy run.

Running in snow and chilly temps requires some adjustments in gear. Hats don’t always cover my ears so I wear a Brooks Nightlife fleece-lined earwarmer with a New Balance fleece-lined hat on top of it. It was below 20, so I added my 15-year-old Neofleece Extreme Masque — it covers the nose and mouth, but there are little holes that let you breathe.

Fleece-lined tights over capri length compression tights, Smartwool socks with baggies over my toes (this works!), and a 20-year-old Gore-Tex jacket. The coup de grace (since my middle name is Klutz) — Get-A-Grip Ice Joggers.

Today, though, I added one more item — my phone. Not because I expected to make any calls but because I wanted to take some photos and videos of what and who else I’d see out there on the roads. So…here you have it… the first is a video (obviously not top quality) of the geese and/or ducks who band together at the quarry.

Ducks and geese huddled on the National Quarry

My husband and neighbor clearing her driveway for her husband's return from medical mission trip

The Weaver sisters

The Riley Creek behind my house

Dress survives 50 years to appear in its second parade

In the past few months, I’ve spent a lot of time clearing out my mom’s condo. This involves filtering through A LOT of old photos..literally, tens of thousands of them. I’m not making this up. There are far too many photographers in my family’s history.

Anyway, when one sorts and re-sorts so many slides, photos, albums, etc., one sees certain photos that spark a memory. So there amidst all those photos was one taken 50 years ago during Bluffton’s centennial. This particular photo is of our church’s float which featured two families — ours and Fred and Mary Amstutz and their four boys. On half of the float, sat my family, dressed in clothing of the 1860s. The Amstutzes sat on the other half, dressed in modern (1960s) clothing.

In that photo, I’m almost 5 years old, wearing a yellow calico dress and sun bonnet (think Little House on the Prairie), and sitting in a miniature rocker. Looking at the photo reminded me that the dress, apron and bonnet were stashed somewhere — probably at the bottom of my cedar trunk. I finally located the dress, but by then had lost track of the intial photo.

It seemed appropriate that since the dress had survived 50 years and several wearings by my own daughters, that someone should wear it for this summer’s sesquicentennial. But who? What distant cousin was about the right size?  Would she have any interest in giving up her comfy shorts for a dress AND apron AND sunbonnet — all of which combined, would make her a bit toasty by the of the day?

Ellie Hartzler sitting on Shelby Cluts' lap

There are some advantages to growing up in a small town where one is often related to a LOT of people. One can usually find a relative without looking too far. Sure enough…there was little Ellie Hartzler, my first cousin, thrice removed. Ellie’s mom promised to ask Ellie whether she’d like to wear the dress and — maybe — ride in a float.

As it turned out, Ellie loved the dress and, in fact, put it on early Saturday morning and wore it all day while they attended various events related to the sesquicentennial. She even got to ride in the parade on a float carrying some high school graduates (one of whom is her babysitter).

When I found her mid-parade, I thanked her for wearing the dress. Ellie grinned and held up her prize of the day — two pieces of candy she’d managed to snag from some passing float.

Eventually, the dress will find its way back to the trunk. Despite my vow to spend this summer getting rid of things, I’m not sure that dress will make the cut. Or maybe…let’s see….which daughter’s car trunk can I hide it in?

Remembering Phyllis

Saturday morning as I rounded the indoor track and dreamed of being on the outdoor track, a vision popped into my mind…one of Phyllis Ehrman Moser, about 12 years ago. We often met at the track. While I ran, she walked. But boy, could that woman walk…long legs striding, arms swinging in the true, graceful form of a race walker.

She once told me about participating in a race some time after she’d undergone successful treatment of breast cancer. She proudly wore her race shirt for years — it was a reminder of what she’d been through. In the winters, she’d disappear from the scene but not from walking. Her basement became her indoor track and she’d do laps around and around and around. When the snow and ice cleared, she was back on the track — a tall form in a white sweatsuit, with a bright smile and cheery wave.

One morning I watched as she came up the road and through the parking lot to the track. She stopped periodically, bending over to pick up something. When she got closer, I realized she was carrying a plastic bag. She’d decided to do her part in keeping Bluffton clean by picking up trash while she walked. I often wondered how many bags she managed to fill over the years.

Memories of her carried me through Saturday’s run, but as the day went on, I forgot about it. Later that night, when we returned from a trip out of town, my husband — as usual — checked his Bluffton Icon inbox for any news to report. Phyllis Ehrman Moser had died at 6:20 a.m., less than two hours before I’d started my run. Wonder what prompted my thoughts of her?

Phyllis was my voice teacher in college. I loved my lessons with her — she was so cheerful, so encouraging, and so willing to let me sing what appealed to me. She had a silly side that I think she only shared with certain people — maybe sensing when another person shared that need for some silliness.

And she could sing. Wow. Could she sing. I once asked her how many times she’d sung in the Messiah, and she thought it must be over 50 years. She must have known it from memory.

The last time I saw Phyllis, I’m pretty sure she didn’t recognize me, but that didn’t matter. Her face lit up with that beautiful, bright, infectious smile. I miss her already.

On turning 70 and celebrating big

Nope. Not me. This time it’s the other Mary Steiner celebrating a milestone. My sister-in-law, Mary Steiner Lord, turns 70 on January 3. It is a fact that amazes me. Probably it amazes her, too.

This is the woman who — according to an unnamed source — saw Elvis Presley in person. It was one of his usual performances complete with “screaming hordes of girls”. Apparently, my source’s details are sketchy since he was, at the time, just a little brother.

This is the woman who plans elaborate Halloween parties for her eight grandchildren, ranging in age from 16 to 2. No one is allowed in without a costume. Everyone complies, including her husband, Guy, and grown children.

This is the same woman, a faithful Quaker who — faced with living in Salt Lake City with her doctor husband and young children —  joined the local ERA chapter, distributing material door to door, pre-school-age daughter in tow. It was she who sent a tiny ERA t-shirt when our first daughter was born.

This is the woman who takes her grandchildren along to the annual Quaker summer meeting — even when their parents can’t attend — making sure they get to experience the week-long activities.

Mary Steiner Lord (back row, second from right), with her family

When her young Bluffton nieces are old enough to travel without their parents, she invites them to join her family in Milwaukee, taking them to Brewers’ games, art museums, zoos, and revolving restaurants high over the city, where she indulges their fondness for fancy desserts.

It is also she who also generously invites the daughters of her distant Swiss cousins to spend entire summers with her family in Milwaukee, taking them to Chicago and Bluffton to meet their other American cousins.

This is the woman who loves to paint, play piano, attend the symphony. She wouldn’t miss a single performance of her grandchildren — Irish dancing, violin, piano, soccer, cross country. And when her daughter, daughters-in-law, and sons decide to tackle triathlons — she’s there.

But this Sunday, the focus will be on her. It’s going to be a big “Let’s fete Mary” party. But I’ll betcha anything, her eyes will be on her kids and grandkids — the loves of her life.

Risky business pays off

In the nearly 30 years that we’ve been married, we haven’t taken many risks, except for buying three houses and having two children. For the most part, we’re cautious — probably overcautious — he more than I. Blame that on the fact that I’m the only girl in a family of four older brothers — they taught me to do things that our parents never knew about until after the fact.

Then, a little more than a year ago, we faced a risky situation that put us both into a little tizzy. For the first time in our married life, we were facing life on a single income — except for some freelance income that helped to pad our panicky selves. We were no different from all those others who had been laid off or fired from jobs, except maybe for the fact that we’d always been cautious. Cheap. Thrifty might be a better word.

In our conversations following the incident that set us back to one income (mine), we talked about what options we had. There were, of course, the usual unemployment checks that would boost things for awhile. But those would eventually end. So we began to brainstorm about how we could combine our skills to start our own business. In the beginning, we saw it as a way for us to avoid the dangers of unemployment — the depression, the fears, the anger, the tension.

In a way, it was almost more of a therapeutic plan but as it began to take shape, we consulted with experts on small business and slowly began to realize that it just might work. With the help of Ryan Lowry, our technology guru, we set about designing a website that would allow us to do exactly what we love — community journalism. Small-town stuff. No national news. A few false starts and we were on our way to going live.

We knew we didn’t want this to cost our readers.  We wanted to keep them out of the financial equation. With two daughters of 20-something ages, and with some students and interns-to-be who are connected at the hip to the Internet, this product had to easily accessible and interesting to all ages.

That’s what led us to the name. As has been our habit for the past 30 years, we talk. A lot. In the car, over dinner, on walks, with our kids, without our kids, with our siblings. In fact, we were in the car driving somewhere, when the perfect name came up. Fred was listing the various names that friends and family had suggested. None sounded quite right. I suddenly realized there was a computer-related word that was perfect. Icon.

Thus the name was born. The Bluffton Icon. Perfect. Short and easy to spell. Its simplicity reeked of technology.

And so, we began The Bluffton Icon. Slowly, Fred and Ryan worked through the technical stuff until we were ready to go live. The date was September 22, 2009. We had seven viewers and while we don’t know who they were, we have our suspicions. I have four siblings, he has two, and there’s that guy out in Reston, VA., who is probably our most loyal supporter, next to our two daughters, Lindsay and Anne. Oh, that’s nine.

Like Jack’s Beanstalk, the Icon grew and grew to today’s version. We owe so much to our advertisers who believed in what we proposed to them. Then there are our readers, our constant supporters. It’s a thrill to overhear someone say they read it on the Icon. We’re heading averaging 500 views a day and we compute that to be about 1,200 unique individuals over the period of a month. 50 states. Viewer on every continent except Antarctica and we’d love to talk with someone there.

It’s difficult to express our thanks to our supporters, but we’re going to try. We’ve planned a one-year celebration from 6-7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 22, at Common Grounds, 121 S. Main St., Bluffton. We’ll have Bluffton Icon coffee (courtesy of Common Grounds), Bluffton Icon popcorn from Shirley’s, and cake and cupcakes from Little Black Apron. Even giveaways. And lots of conversation.

Hope to see you there!

Wiping down tables, flipping burgers a means for giving back to his community

If Carlin Carpenter was the first person you met in Bluffton, you’d do one of two things. Hightail it for the hinterlands or decide to stay put. After a hearty welcome from Carpenter, Jerry and Lori Lewis decided that if his friendliness was any indication of the general population, then Bluffton was a good place to settle and open their first McDonald’s Restaurant. In fact, they never did get around to visiting the two other towns that were options for them to open their first store. That single restaurant has grown to 17 within the Lewis franchise system, but the Lewises continue to reside in Bluffton.

Scott Shaw, who has worked for Jerry since he first opened the Bluffton store, is now director of operations, and lives around the corner from Jerry and his family. Recently, Jerry gifted Scott with “key employee ownership”, which shows how much faith he has in his good friend.

Today Lewis’ restaurants employ a total of 900, with 60 of those at the Bluffton store. According to Lewis, who spoke at the Sept. 10 Bluffton Chamber of Commerce breakfast, the company is an active supporter of local activities including soccer, Child Development Center, Ricky Matter Strength and Conditioning Center, Bluffton University President’s Club, McDonald’s Basketball Tournament, library summer reading program, library expansion, MAC Grants to teachers, and scoreboards at Bluffton University. In Lima, Lewis’ restaurants sponsor a Thanksgiving Day dinner at the Civic Center, and are involved in Clean Up Inner City Lima — donating $60,000 of paint and mulch, and other supplies.

The truth is, it’s hard to make a turn in Bluffton without seeing some evidence of Lewis’ McDonald’s — whether on a billboard, a sign, a tee-shirt on a tiny soccer player.

Jerry Lewis talks with Oscar Velasquez and Ropp Triplett

Lewis, who served in the Navy for four years after high school, spent another year backpacking through Europe before returning home to southeastern Ohio. He quickly became immersed in the McDonald’s business and has never lost his passion for it.

In fact, Lewis can spout McDonald statistics like a devout OSU football fan. Stats like these just roll off his tongue: 637 restaurants in Ohio, 37,110 employees, 8.4 percent are in management, and the average length of employment is 9.2 years. Lewis is all-too-familiar with the negatives that go along with “flipping burgers”.

“Don’t study hard, you’re going to flip burgers for the rest of your life,” said Lewis, adding with a grin, “That’s what I do.”

But flipping burgers has provided Lewis with the means to give back to a community that has supported him wholeheartedly. That passion for “giving back” resulted in his being awarded the treasured “Golden Arch Award” in 2010, an award given to less than one percent of all McDonald’s owners.

Lewis’ enthusiasm for the business has begun to impact his own children. Jessica, a schoolteacher with bachelor’s and master’s degrees and a principal’s certificate, has taken a year of absence to spend some time working for the family business. His son, Jonathan, a finance major at Miami University, intends to join the business after graduation. But Lewis is clear; this is not a matter of nepotism in the workplace. His kids begin just like every other employee — wiping down tables.

It is, after all, how Lewis started his own McDonald’s career. From wiping tables to flipping burgers to giving back. It’s all about having a passion for doing what you love.